Our First UU Principle guides us to see the inherent worth and dignity in each person. One of the ways we might practice this aspect of our faith is by welcoming visitors into the UUCWC fold. If it has been a long time since you entered a new church, you may not be aware that entering a space such as ours can be very intimidating. Of course, it seems as though EVERYONE knows each other and no one knows you. It’s hard for visitors to know what to say, where to look, how to be. That is why I invite you to charge yourself with the task of being a welcoming presence.
I have heard many people say things like: “I hate small talk!” My goal in this article is to move us all toward the realization that small talk leads to deeper conversation. When possible, approach visitors and say: “Welcome! I’m so glad to see you today.” Congregants have expressed concern that they might “accidentally” welcome someone who has visited often—or a person who is already a member. If you keep your welcome generic (see above) you need not worry. It IS GREAT to see each person who comes to worship. Shaking hands and introducing yourself is a wonderful next step.
Give the briefest summary of yourself sharing small details. For example, I might say: “Hi, I’m Sue Goodwin. I am the Minister of Congregational Life at the church. I just began working here in July.” This invites the person (member or visitor) to share their “data points” with me. When first meeting someone try to avoid questions that appear centered around work/educational achievements/status. We meet in this place as part of the “interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” (see 7th Principle). Let’s keep what we have in common front and center.
When speaking with a visitor, ask if they have any questions about the church. By this I mean the location of the restrooms, what our auction is like, your views on the fellowship experience offered by attending Welcome Table Wednesday, etc. Try to be an ambassador for UUCWC. Help us to grow! Stay positive, cheerful and encouraging with comments that are upbeat. “Our auction is amazing!” “I have found our congregation really welcoming but I remember that it was a little awkward at first when I came here. I found the best way to meet people was by attending ___ (potlucks, community events, religious education classes, and so forth). “
Conversations might be thought of as rungs on a ladder. You are not going to the top in one quick climb. In other words, you are not going to ask someone: “What is the meaning of life as far as you are concerned?” You are going to share small details about yourself in order to find common ground with the person you are trying to get to know. An important tip here is to ask open ended questions. These are questions that cannot be answered with a simple YES or No. Then remember to LISTEN more than you talk.
Finally, if you are speaking with someone who has a great deal in common with someone else that you know in the church (for example their children are the same ages, they live in same town, they are both marathon runners or bikers, etc.) introduce them at coffee hour if possible. Play “friendship match-maker” because people yearn to make connections. Being friendly and conversing with folks we do not know, is part and parcel of being radically welcoming. This is how we can spread more light and also grow our congregation.